Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/13/2018: Everybody’s A Critic!

Good morning!

(That almost came out “good monging”…not a propitious sign)

1.  Diversity ethics:  The concept that somehow there are sinister motives and undesirable results any time an occupation settles into a demographic mix that isn’t four-square with that of the general population is one more bit of ideological cant. In London, U.K, the mayor has decreed it a crisis that the population using bicycles is disproportionately white, and has  said he is considering setting diversity targets for London’s cycling population to ensure that “progress was achieved.” I liked Amy Alkon’s disgusted reaction to this whole issue, as she asked how  gender equality would be achieved in fields where women show little interest in participating for a variety of reasons, including a greater interest in a work-life balance. How is this artificial PC “diversity goal” going to be achieved, she asks…” Force women at gunpoint to become cardiologists, oil rig workers, and garbagepersons? Force men at gunpoint to become veterinarians and kindergarten teachers?”

Reader (and volunteer Ethics Alarms proof-reading czar) Pennagain just sent me an article about the relative lack of female movie critics (minority movie critics are also under-represented among Hispanics, blacks and Asians. (I would also bet that they are disproportionately gay, but the study discussed didn’t check that, apparently.) Now unlike, say, female  “garbagepersons,” female movie critics predictably have a point of view that would make a substantive difference in film reviews, so I cannot brush aside this particular imbalance with “So what?” Instead I will ask, “What’s stopping them?” Anyone can be a movie critic now: all you need is a website, some dedication, and, one hopes, some understanding of film and culture. Now, being paid as a film critic is a little trickier.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, still perhaps the most famous U.S. film critic, whose long-lasting prominence, success and influence (I hated her reviews most of the time–overly political and biased, with whole genres she didn’t understand—“guy movies” like Westerns and horror films, that she sniffed at as beneath her) should have inspired more women to enter the field, but didn’t. I presume there is a reason for that, such as that spending your life watching multiple movies a day including many you wouldn’t be caught dead at if it wasn’t mandatory isn’t an attractive career choice, especially if you want a family.

2. From my sexual harassment files...I just rediscovered this, a sexual harassment case I discussed in program for a construction company in the 90’s. An attractive woman who worked in construction (Diversity!) was walking to work with a co-worker when some boor from an apartment window shouted at her, “Hey, show me your tits!” The women misheard the remark, and shouted back, “Sorry, I don’t have any kids!” Her colleague thought th exchange was hilarious, and told her what the guy really said, He also told everyone on the construction site about the incident, and the woman was pestered from then on with men smirking as they made comments like, “Hey, can I see pictures of your kids?” I hear you have two beautiful kids!” “Why don’t you let your kids out more?”  “Boy, I bet you’re proud of those kids of yours.” The women tried to laugh it off, but the joke never died, even though she started telling everyone to knock it off. Finally, she complained to management, and was told that she was being silly and hyper-sensitive. She sued.

Was using the word “kids”  in a coded joke creating a hostile work environment, or did the court find that since the language itself was inoffensive and not sex-related, it couldn’t be sexual harassment?

3. I’m sure I will have to write more about this, but…for now,it is sufficient to state that the anti-Trump mainstream media and pundit reaction to the Singapore summit shows such hostility and such blatant double standards that it is a self-damning exercise. I especially liked members of “The View” bleating that the President “wasn’t prepared” for the meeting with North Korea’s Boy Dictator. How the hell do they know what his preparation was? No President, and I mean no President, has ever had a summit with a foreign leader or negotiations with hostile nations treated in this kind of uniformly hostile fashion by the media. See, the country is supposed to be an his side, because it’s our side. FDR agreed to hand over Eastern Europe to enslavement under Stalin. Obama received nothing in exchange for re-opening U.S. relations with Cuba, and yet most of the mainstream media cheered. The MSN continued–has continued– to defend the Iran deal, even after multiple revelations of deception by the Obama Administration’

I think the “resistance” is creating support and sympathy for the President every day with such displays, to a degree that I would never have believed possible.

4.  Restaurant ethics: Delegating unethical conduct is still unethical conduct. From the Times:

The Cheesecake Factory and a janitorial contractor have been found liable in a $4.57 million wage theft case involving hundreds of underpaid janitorial workers at eight California locations, the state’s Department of Industrial Relations said on Monday, sending a strong message to businesses that they are accountable for workplace violations — even if their workers are hired by contractors.

The janitors, who worked at Cheesecake Factory restaurants in Orange and San Diego Counties, started their shifts around midnight, worked until morning without proper periods for meals or rest breaks, and were not allowed to leave until kitchen managers conducted walk-throughs to review their work, the investigation found.

The walk-throughs, which led to additional tasks, resulted in each worker logging up to 10 hours of unpaid overtime each week, the Department of Industrial Relations said.

This sure looks like a common unethical phenomenon in organizations involving what I call “The Mission Impossible Instruction.” A company makes a demand of an employee or contractor that requires illegal or unethical conduct, but doesn’t specifically order the conduct. Underlying the instructions is the old disclaimer from the famous TV series: “As always, should you or any of your Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” This is signature significance for an unethical organizational culture.

I’m happy that the Cheesecake Factory didn’t get away with it, but I will guarantee that there is a lot more rot in that cheesecake.

36 Comments

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36 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/13/2018: Everybody’s A Critic!

  1. Aleksei

    #2 I think it would be reasonable to conclude that the joke did create a hostile workplace over time, on account of all the pestering, and etc. A hostile workplace environment doesn’t necessarily have to stem from a sexual topic. But guessing how courts like to nit-pick and get pedantic, I will say that they found that there was no sexual harassment, because the word “kid” in the dictionary doesn’t relate to anything sexual. Case closed, everyone is free to leave!.

  2. Glenn Logan

    2. They weren’t just using the word “kids” as a coded joke, but as a substitute for teasing her about her anatomy without using an offensive word. I hope the judge agreed with the plaintiff, because it was clearly a hostile work environment for the woman having to suffer through that. No matter what he found, it was just plain wrong for them to do that, and if I’d been their supervisor, some heads would’ve rolled.

  3. 1) So bicycles themselves are discriminating against non-whites?

    The mayor of London sounds like a very stupid man.

  4. 2) Maybe not sexual harassment, but I don’t see how after a while it isn’t ‘ordinary’ harassment creating a hostile work environment.

  5. JP

    2. In this case, here I would say that it was a hostile work environment. I imagine with cases like this, you have to evaluate them one by one. Context matters and based on the story, it seems obvious the workers knew exactly what they were talking about especially after claiming she never had kids.

  6. “A company makes a demand of an employee or contractor that requires illegal or unethical conduct, but doesn’t specifically order the conduct.”

    This doesn’t compute to me.

    “Make a demand” and “Order the Conduct” are synonymous in all hierarchies. Even implied demands.

    • “You must make the following bottom line every month.”
      “But that’s impossible unless my staff works unbilled overtime.”
      “How you achieve the goal is up to you, though of course you have no authorization to violate any laws or regulations. Just do it.”

      • In that specifically worded example, the conduct ethically falls on the supervisor or employee who tacitly just promised they could achieve the objective.

        If they cannot honestly make such a promise, courage demands that they continue to push back against the hierarchy in a professional manner making the argument to the bitter end that the objective is impossible within the constraints.

        • … making the argument to the bitter end that the objective is impossible within the constraints.

          …and lose their gig. Also likely lose a needed referral to get another job with another contractor. Contractor companies are brutal and one can be blackballed for such an ‘attitude.’

          That is the price many pay to remain employed these days. Yes, it is unethical and wrong. It is also the way things work.

          • Modified Prisoner’s Dilemma. I got it.

            1) Either we re-evaluate the laws that are putting people into these Ethical Dilemmas and determine if the law does more harm than good.

            OR

            2) We start behaving heroically and accept that there will be some personal setbacks in the crusade for good.

            Otherwise, as you note, it’s one big rationalization fest which eats away at everyone’s ethics alarms.

      • This is really common in compliance-oriented business processes, and it also happens internally with bosses and subordinates. A former employer did this a lot with their Contracts department, essentially telling the legal staff “We have a strict policy of doing full due-diligence before signing any contracts. Also, we want to close this deal tomorrow.”

      • Isaac

        Ah, the Wells Fargo technique. And of course, employees who don’t meet the goal get fired.

  7. A.M. Golden

    “How is this artificial PC “diversity goal” going to be achieved…”

    The way they handle(d) it in the Soviet Union and other similar totalitarian countries – Quotas. If there are enough people doing the job you want to do, you get assigned to do something else. Personal fulfillment is sublimated to the needs of the State.

  8. Steve-O-in-NJ

    #1) Sadiq Khan is an idiot, worse than Ken Livingstone, and that’s saying something. However, the British want to let their major cities get loaded with muzzies who vote for other muzzies, they shouldn’t be surprised.

    #2) Management were idiots, and should have told this woman’s co-workers to knock it off after the joke had run its course. The woman’s co-worker was an even bigger idiot, and shouldn’t have spread this exchange through the office like a nine-year-old tattle-tale.

    #3) The media has reached the point of being like the black dwarves in the final Narnia book, who ceased to be on anyone’s side but their own, and shot at both their former king and his enemies, continually saying “the dwarfs are for the dwarfs.” At this point the media is for the media, no one else.

    #4) There was an epi of Law and Order to this effect, where kids die from eating tainted fast food hamburgers. The fast food chain of course blames the meat supplier, but the finger points back at them when the meat supplier testifies that the chain told him he had to deliver a ridiculous daily quota or lose the chain’s business, which would put him OUT of business, so he cut corners to stay afloat. I think the case pleads out, but it’s obvious the jury was not going to see it the chain’s way.

    • adimagejim

      Steve:

      Your response to #3 seems a bit of wishful thinking. The media is definitely for one side, on which they play one vital part. However, when the media gains its side’s desired result, many of them will be sent to the gulag, if only to keep those remaining faithfully reporting the party line.

  9. Bad Bob

    #4 is problematic.

    If CCF pays for cleaning services on a fixed price basis (seems reasonable), then there has to be some process for ensuring services paid for have been rendered. Not their fault.

    If the cleaning company under bid the job, that’s not on CCF. Unless you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not under bidding the job. It’s a cleaning company that contracted another cleaning company, they all knew their jobs.

    Or they’re rackateers, more likely, using illegals to make money on the difference charged vs. what they pay labor.

    What about the non-profit org that represented the workers? Where does the money come from that pays their wage? From state funds that the laws provide for from penalties in cases like these? Did they find the lawyers?

    Welcome to business in a sanctuary state.

    It was eight locations, some zone manager hired a company, got bit, and because California passed a law making businesses liable for the conduct of subs, CCF gets a black eye.

    Not a fan of the restaurant, but there’s a lot wrong here, and it’s not just on the restaurant.

  10. #2, yeah harassment. If the joke never died, even though asking everyone to knock it off and eventually going to management? That means the company was probably more juvenile than the original heckler. They had plenty of time to get a joke out of their systems, and refusing to stop is just rude. They probably thought it was a ‘safe’ way to do it as the word used was not rude, but the usage WAS. (I’m holding the management responsible for not reining it in as unprofessional and reflecting poorly on the company. They continued because they could)

  11. A company makes a demand of an employee or contractor that requires illegal or unethical conduct, but doesn’t specifically order the conduct.

    That does not seem to be the basis for the allegation against Cheesecake Factory.

    The state did allege that Cheesecake Factory exercised de facto control over the janitors. Specifically, the janitors”were not allowed to leave untilkitchen managers conducted walk-through to review their work, the investigation found

    How is this artificial PC “diversity goal” going to be achieved, she asks…” Force women at gunpoint to become cardiologists, oil rig workers, and garbagepersons? Force men at gunpoint to become veterinarians and kindergarten teachers?”

    No, just require half of the workers to identify as women while on the job.

  12. PennAgain

    You do realize, Jack, that I am now the one to blame for any and all typos. Now everyone is going to be after me with things like “see, you missed another one” and “hey, there Proofie, where’s your style manual,” and “wanna come home with me for a little spell?” Pretty soon it will escalate: knowing how profitable it is, they will be after my job. And I will be out on the street in a comma with just a pun and a cupful of used exclamation points for sale.

    Yes, I left out a punctuation mark for y’all to fight over.

    • Great article. It showed how common Americans react to adversity.

      Intuit will lose business going forward for their lousy (and illegal) treatment of a legitimate customer who just happens to sell guns. Reading the comments after the article bears this out: virtue signal with other people’s money, and Americans will take their business elsewhere.

      This was not even a boycott: who wants to use a credit card processor who can suddenly cut ties with you and NOT pay you for pending transactions where you have already delivered your product? This is a business decision, plain and simple.

      Thanks for an upbeat note to my day, Michael!

    • Wow. I had not heard of this previously. If Intuit wishes not to be involved in processing payments for someone in the gun industry, that’s their prerogative. However, refunding transactions for goods and services already provided is quite another thing. As stated in some of the comments, I would not be surprised if that was a criminal matter. At the very least, it is likely to be a violation of their own Terms of Service agreement. Certainly it is way over the line ethically and morally.

      I don’t know how much of a practical alternative there is to Quick Books, but certainly Turbo Tax has many competitors who would love to see it stumble.

  13. 3. This is what gets Trump re-elected: the media saying utter stupidity while common Americans are paying attention.

    They are paying attention because the media has constantly been yelling louder ever since the election.

  14. ”the media saying utter stupidity while common Americans are paying attention.” (bolds mine)

    Remember how quickly HRC abandoned the reference Everyday Americans?

    “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,”

    She was likely unable to hide the absolutely suffocating enmity she truly felt/feels for the great unwashed, regardless of ideology.

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